Southside Festival 2022

Finally, festivals again. First time since 2019, first time at Southside for us. Quick wiki summary: Southside Festival is a medium size festival in the south of Germany, and the sister festival of Hurricane Festival in the north. Blazing sun and 28 °C welcomed us and the forecast was solid. We travelled by coach this year, rather than driving, and enjoyed free transport by train both to and from the festival with our festival ticket. In terms of encouraging environmentally conscious travelling and reducing the traffic, pretty good going.

Friday

To pass the time between setting up camp and the arena opening, we took a walk around the campsite. Enough campers were armed with super soakers that the walk was actually quite refreshing. The ally along the tarmac in the main camping area had everything you could need for the weekend: food, merch, ATMs and air brush tattoos.

Welsh metal band Skindred opened up the Green Stage, arguably the main stage. Managing to tease an impressive amount of energy and participation out of an already overheating crowd. Heat warnings went out via app, advising to wear sun cream and keep hydrated. The latter required more effort than it reasonable should have done; we were only aware of one drinking water station for the majority of the day meaning every water bottle refill turned into a mini odyssey across the site. Compared to previous festivals, the water supply was limited and poorly signposted, not great for a weekend expect up to 30°C. As the weekend went on, more were put up so people weren’t relying on hand washing sinks as much.

Provinz opened the Blue Stage with a short (only 30 min) and sweet set. The band is local and grew up going to Southside, so understandably they were quite emotional about standing on the stage this year rather than in front of it. They drew a massive crowd for a Friday afternoon slot. The crowd that was singing along from the first song, taking over entire choruses. A fun set of carefree dancing in the sun.

Getting to the Blue Stage for Tones and I’s German festival debut, the obvious thing that stood out was the purple-green crooked house that took up the entire stage. The band were neatly contained in the front garden, behind purple picket fences. Equally cute and unsettling, definitely a unique stage design, and more than you would ever expect from a Friday afternoon slot. Tones and I switched between walking up around the stage and playing keyboard on the balcony of her house. The set included covers of Forever Young by Alphaville and Diamonds by Rhianna, keeping her hit Dance Monkey for second to last.

Switching from sunshine dancing to good ol’ fashioned rock, Royal Blood’s fierce riffs rang out from the Blue Stage. The guitarist of the duo, Mike Kerr, introduced his “gbass”, a bass with guitar strings, responsible for the distinct Royal Blood sound. The drummer, Ben Thatcher, was set up on a raised platform with a massive gong behind him, which he satisfyingly hit after an impressive drum solo with crowd countdown.

Alice Merton’s set, played in front a pink sky backdrop with boulders across the front of the stage took us back from head banging to dancing in the sun. The set had several new songs including Vertigo, a song she wrote as part of getting over the anxiety she developed around performing during the pandemic. Her hit Roots got everybody moving.

My personal Friday Highlight, Kummer, played his first festival show accompanied by a massive cube made from halogen ceiling lights. Normally the lead singer of popular band Kraftklub, Kummer released a solo album in 2019 with the intention to tour in 2020 and then return to the band. The pandemic threw a big old spanner into those works, so now the project is being finished along side his work with the band. Chaotic for him, great for us, as we were treated to the live debut of the new Krafklub song Ein song reicht. A fantastic set, with guest performances from Blond and the singer from Provinz.

Trying to get across the arena to Kings of Leon turned out to be harder than expected. Crowds coming away from rapper Kontra K’s show completely congested the middle of the site, meaning I missed the start of the set. Normally the one-way system commonly used at German festivals works quite well, but the fact the arena is quite narrow meant there was no way to walk around the back of the dense crowd. Your best hope was to join one of the many conga lines snaking through the crowd as they passed.

Although sounding great, the long day and heat eventually got to us, and we had to bail from Kings of Leon about halfway through. We enjoyed Use somebody from our tent, including the crowd singing along, but were asleep before Sex on Fire. Maybe we’re out of practise after three festival-free years, maybe we’re getting old, who’s to say.

Saturday


Saturday morning was a race to get out of the sauna-like tent and into the shade. While we fully woke up, Bilbao was opening the Green Stage including a cover of The Killers’ Mr Brightside. After grabbing a smoothie-coffee-bakery breakfast at the camp site stall, we headed into the arena for day two.

Matching the desert level temperature, The Dead South gave us southern cowboy vibes on the Green Stage.  With songs about bar fights and their love of whiskey along with catchy banjo tunes, the set had people linking arms and dancing in circles. Also, the bassist/celloist wore his cello like a bass guitar, so Jack Black was right.

OK Kid played on the Blue Stage, stepping in for Gayle at short notice. Being regulars at Southside, they had been hoping for a holiday, but were more than happy to jump in the van and come over.

Giant Rooks played their first Southside festival this year. Lead singer, Frederik Rabe, thanked the crowd for choosing this stage to be at. Which was cute considering there was a queue of people wanting to get into the area in front of the stage.  The set included new songs, which the crowd loved, and a cover of Tom’s Diner by Susanne Vega previously recorded by Giant Rooks and AnnenMayKantereit. After the standard “everybody good?”, the lead singer asked if everyone’s neighbour was good, and instead of just shouting “yeah”, everybody actually turned to their neighbour to check which was very sweet. The most impressive thing about this wonderful set was the fact the lead singer kept throwing his guitar halfway across the stage to the roadie and there were no broken guitars by the end.

Surprise highlight for me was LP, who’s crowd was quite thin, likely because everyone was over at Giant Rooks. She was exceptionally cool, and the band were clearly having a great time on stage. A girl in the crowd was holding a sign asking for a kiss, LP invited her on stage to get one, saying “you gotta to ask for sh*t”.

Expecting there to be queue for The Killers, we headed over during the act before, Dermot Kennedy. The gates were only opened between acts which was a bit of a shame considering people leaving meant that the crowd could get pretty sparse in front of the stage at times. The Killers opened with Mr Brightsidewhich I would have expected to be near the end of the set. The set was a run through the classics with one song from the new album (Dying Breed) and a cover of Shadowplay by Joy Division. It was a little odd to see a band like The Killers not in a headlining slot, with only 1hr 15min to play and missing all their usual confetti and fireworks. I guess even with the large crowd, they don’t quite hold the sway in Germany that they do in the UK.

SDP played the Blue Stage, bringing their usual party chaos with pyrotechnics and giant inflatables. Their last album tour was cancelled due to COVID, and they’d just released another album, so the set contained two albums worth of new music alongside the classics and a cover of Die Ärtzte’s Schrei Nach Liebe. It was a great, fun, juvenile time.

Green Stage headliners SEEED packed the arena right to the very back with their reggae hip-hop set. Playing a combination of their own songs, front man Peter Fox’s solo songs and covers including Paper Planes by MIA and SexyBack by Justin Timerlake, the set also included long instrumental sections, perfect for dancing.

This time we made it to the last act of the night, Martin Garrix, headlining the Blue Stage. As you would expect from a DJ set, the whole stage was made of screens, with a big plus hanging behind him. The set went pretty heavy from the start with pyro and smoke alongside glitchy graphics and soul vibrating bass.

Sunday

Sunday morning was much like Saturday morning: wake up, recover from the sweltering temperature of the tent outside in the (scarce) shade, get breakfast and head into the arena. Walking over to Nothing but Thieves, all available shade was completely filled with people, every bin, fence, and shade throwing object fully utilised. Despite the heat, Nothing but Thieves, drew a pretty big crowd, more than capable of singing the choruses to Trip Switch, Sorry and Amsterdam.

Over on the Blue stage, German rapper Juju was absolutely dominating, the front duo hyping up the crowd to no end. A fan joined them on stage for Intro and she undeniably nailed the entire song, the crowd celebrating her accordingly. The set included a couple SXTN songs, JuJu’s former band. A ridiculous amount of energy all round for a Sunday early afternoon.

Bristolian punk rock band Idles treated the us to a rowdy performance on the Blue stage. Half the crowd ending up embroiled in a part mosh pit, part dust bath for a solid chunk of the set. Moving from punk to punk-rap, Antilopen Gang played over on the Red stage, the smallest of the main stages.

K.I.Z. can safely be described as not politically correct in the slightest. Coming on stage in matching psychiatric clinic outfits and a provocative song to match, it was a set of very dark humour, pyro and smoke. The trio were surprisingly silly in between songs, clearly having a great time, waving at the people in the Ferris wheel at the back of the field. Very high energy, a lot of fun, not for the easily offended.

As a light-hearted pallet cleanser compared to K.I.Z., Von Wegen Lisbeth took to the Green stage as second to last band. The set had a long panel of black and white squares that switched between colours in various patterns. Their well-known marimba sound and glockenspiel solos were the perfect sound for the setting sun and the singer was grinning the whole time. The set included everything from the oldest to the newest songs as well as a cover of Believe by Cher.

Blue stage headliners, Twenty One Pilots, came on stage wearing ski masks and kicked their set of with Heathens. Shortly after, the masks came off as the drummer, Josh Dun, back flipped off the piano. The band started towards the back of the stage behind low screens but came forward during various songs and solos. The set included a cover of Benny and the Jets by Elton John in the middle of Mulberry Street. At one point there was suddenly a little bonfire on stage which the band sat around with acoustic instruments to play a medley of covers including I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash, My Girl by The Temptations, Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Careless Whispers by George Michael. The campfire session finished with House of Gold and We Don’t Believe What’s on TV. There was a brief intermission in which the trumpeter played 99 Luftballons by Nena, which of course the crowd got on board with straight away, and the Halo theme, for which the band came back on stage and transitioned into Jumpsuit. I got a little emotional at Level of Concern considering it was one of my lockdown associated songs, it felt good to sing it in a crowd. Singer Tyler Joseph was no stranger to the crowd, standing on them at one point and crowd surfing back from the central tower in the most nonchalant way I have ever seen, just flopping on to the crowd and jokingly complaining his legs are too tired and that he’s like to go back to stage please. A fantastic and very varied set.

Final headliner, Deichkind, gave a show that more closely resembled a performance art piece than a live gig. It included everything from giant moving set pieces through countless costume changes to mini trampolines and office chair races. Several songs were performed in their famous triangle head masks and one in a giant barrel being rolled through the crowd. The final song bought complete chaos both to the stage and the crowd: the curtains drew back to reveal something akin to a Harlem Shake video with inflatables, balloons, even more random costumes and a cut out of Inauguration Bernie Sanders. One band member was surfing over the crowd in a huge inflatable ring, covering the crowd in feathers. It was a perfect finale to the weekend.

With the free trains and shuttles to and from the festival, it’s a great one to stop off at if you’re travelling in the area on the summer. The arena is relatively small, smaller than Hurricane, which has the same line-up. The timings mean you can move between acts as the alternate between the two biggest stages, so you can easily fill your timetable to see a huge number of bands as long as you’re happy to occasionally miss the first and last songs. As the day goes on the overlaps get a little bigger but unless you’re a diehard fan you can enjoy the vibes of each performance and then move on. By moving while acts are still playing you also avoid the large traffic of everyone leaving a stage in one direction at once.

From previous experience of other festivals run by the same company, the amount of water stations has been higher in the past, so you didn’t have to walk far out of your way at any given point to fill up. Maybe this year the organisers were a little out of practise or didn’t expect the heat, but I’d say that was the weakest point this year.

Leaving on Monday morning, we had to be at the shuttle bus to the train station at 6 am to get our connections back to the UK, and there was already a queue of people waiting. I feel like that’s very German, at a UK festival people may have slowly started leaving in the late morning. The shuttles ran until very late/early in the night Sunday to Monday, so most traveling plans would have been accommodated.

Overall, it was wonderful to be back at festivals given the past few years and Southside was a perfect one to start with. Big enough to offer a range of both German and international bands, small enough not to get overwhelmed with what’s on offer. Perfect, if not a little too hot, weather. Great vibes, good food. A good, fun time.

Highfield Festival – 2019!

Friday

Most people’s “home festival” is the one near their city. Ours is a modest (30,000 guest) festival in the east of Germany. The weather was warm and muggy as we arrived. It was Friday afternoon, so most people had already arrived and pitched camp. Luckily, we spotted a spot in the corner of the campsite, introduced ourselves to our neighbours and erected our abode for the next three days.

As we headed to the arena for the first time, three-piece punk rock band Montreal was already warming up the crowds. All the way from the security queue to the front of the stage, people were singing along. A solid block of moshers and dancers were enjoying themselves in the first wave while many people sat further back, enjoying the afternoon sunshine. My personal favourite was a cover of “Katharine” by new wave band Steinwolke. Yonas, Montreal’s lead singer, admitted that they had previously got in trouble with the band for covering their song, but figured that a) the crowd wouldn’t tell on them and b) if the crowd sang loud enough the band couldn’t be identified on the tv coverage anyway, so we’re all good to go. The audience upheld their end of the bargain and belted out the chorus with all their might.  The band invited two members of the audience on to the stage to hold a large digital clock to time the song “2 minuten”. They searched specifically for a woman and a man, you know, for fairness. However, they did not consider choosing based on height as the chosen man was much taller, leading to a somewhat wonky clock. Despite the diagonal timepiece, they performed the song in two minutes on the dot. The performance was the perfect icebreaker, getting us in the mood for the weekend to come.

The evening program started with the Swedish funk-rock band Royal Republic. The large neon lightning bolt and general Miami casino vibe were promising. What it did not prepare us for was the fact the band would walk on stage in red dinner jackets, white collared shirts and pearl necklaces. The lead singer’s impressive moustache completed the ensemble perfectly. Definitely an up and coming look. It took a single bar to get the whole crowd dancing. Lead singer Adam Grahn moved across the stage with fantastic flamboyance, directing the crowd with a drumstick he stole from the drummer. For the first part of the set, one song chased the other, leaving no chance of recovery. The continued dancing combined with the dry weather meant huge clouds of dust were kicked up, especially when the intro to “Full Steam Space Machine” played and everyone went crazy. In the run-up to the festival, Grahn had given decided on a record we could break together: most circle pits. According to his logic, three is the minimum number of people required for a circle pit. So theoretically, 30,000 people can make 10,000 circle pits. After telling everyone to get acquainted with their neighbours the band was off into “Stop Movin’”. Chaos ensued. Whether we really did break any records I don’t know, but we had a damn good time.

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Over on the Blue Stage Von Wegen Lisbeth were getting ready to play. Two years ago, their stage décor could be described as kitsch suburban garden, complete with fake grass everywhere and plastic flamingo. This year, they started off with a dark canvas covering the whole stage. After a few bars of the first song, “Wieso”, the canvas dropped, revealing the band and their more standard tech and lighting set up. Having just released their second full album the set was a split between old and new songs. The older songs were greeted with a chorus from the crowd, almost taking over from the band. The lead singer was clearly overwhelmed by the response, recalling their last time here at two in the afternoon.

In complete contrast to the fun, bouncy, xylophone accompanied Von Wegen Lisbeth Feine Sahne Fischfilet kicked off on the Green Stage. Feine Sahne Fischfilet performances are always a dirty, high energy experience. Today’s show was no exception. The immediate, crowd-wide mosh pit made getting to the second row very easy. Within two songs, the band and various locations in the crowd had erupted with smoke flares, making the field look like an ongoing riot. Throughout the set, signal flares were set off in the crowd, keeping the high-octane atmosphere going. Lead singer Monchi had a crate of beer bottles with him at the edge of the walkway and frequently distributed these amongst fans. Famous for passing around a large bottle of peppermint liquor, this year they upgraded to pump dispensers they could spray straight at open mouths. There were two opposing reactions to this. Half the crowd wanted in and rushed forwards, because, you know, free alcohol. The other half backed off due to the combination of very sticky alcohol and the very low accuracy of the pumps. I was part of the latter. The band dedicated many songs to people working for political causes including sea rescue in the Mediterranean and people standing up to far-right groups.

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Punters had two styles to pick from for their headliners on Friday night. The chilled rapper Cro, famous for always wearing a panda mask and the jazz-funk-reggae Jan Delay & Disko No.1. On the Blue Stage, Cro started off with the relaxed summer anthem “easy”. The spotlight casting his shadow on the huge, white, low poly version of his panda mask on stage behind him. The majority of the set had a laid-back feeling, with Cro sitting or kneeling on the edge of the stage, bathed in blue light as the full moon rose over the arena. The energy picked up for “Traum” and “Meine Gang”, with people dancing from the front row right back to the food stalls. The set ended with Cro standing on the giant panda head singing “Bye Bye” with galaxies projected behind him.

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Straight afterwards, Jan Delay & Disko No.1 were starting on the Green Stage. The stage was covered in leopard print with pink outlines, somewhat reminiscent of Hamburg’s famed red-light district. The band played as Jan Delay introduced them from offstage before finally appearing himself. Dressed in a suit, sunglasses and a trilby, Jan Delay spent the show dance-walking across the stage, firing up the crowd. The band included a brass section and backing singers and worked various riffs into their jazz-funk songs including Red Hot Chili Peppers and Mackelmore’s “Thriftshop”. At one point he taught the crowd a “classic disco move”, two claps, two jumps to the right and the same again to the left. It worked surprisingly well, the crowd moved as one, like an oversized cha cha slide. The whole set was great, people dancing all over the arena, with some impressive moves on show.

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As we walked back to our tent the gazebo-rave we had walked past 8 hours earlier was still going, or perhaps going again. We could hear the beach stage playing favourite after favourite and so we drifted to sleep accompanied by the soothing sound of Backstreet BoysEverybody”.


Saturday

The overcast Saturday morning sky was threatening rain, but it was still very warm. After a decent breakfast of eggs and bacon, we threw ourselves back into the fray.  Walking around the arena, the lively trumpet riff of Talco caught my attention. The Italian Ska-punk band had everyone dancing clapping and chanting. They won me over, so I stayed. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one as more and more people danced up and into the crowd during the set. A fun and loud way to start the festival day.

Monsters of Liedermaching provided a new take on the traditional “man with guitar” by going in the “6 men with guitars” direction. The band sat in a row of two benches, any number of them playing acoustic guitar and singing at any given time. What the crowd lacked in physical volume they made up for with vocal volume, singing along with everything. The band encouraged and celebrated audience participation, handing out cups of beer and promptly turning an audience thrown toilet roll into a fashionable scarf.

As we got lunch and sat to watch the Green Stage, Skindred played “Out of Space” as a tribute to The Prodigy who were meant to headline Highfield this year before the tragic passing of Keith Flint.

Die Orsons bought their hyperactive rap to the Blue stage accompanied by a giant inflatable moth-squid (?). The four frontmen had outfits matching the eccentricity of the show: one in a suit jacket, purple leggings and a green open-faced ski mask, one in a red suit and white shirt, one in matching, brightly patterned shorts and shirt and one in a bright pink jumper and tracksuits. The crowd jumped and moshed, fired up by the contagious energy of the band.

All members of Enter Shikari came on stage wearing matching grey-beige shirts and trousers. Within a few songs, lead singer Rou Reynolds was on a small platform at the first crowd dividers. After sitting on the bar while singing “Anaesthetist”, he ran into the crowd to dance with his fans.

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On the green stage everyone’s dad, Thees Uhlmann & Band, played a homely, down to earth set peppered with new songs. Wine glass in hand, insisting we all text him when we get home safe, Thees Uhlman put his best Dad moves on show. He dedicated a song to Avicii, for whom he had a lot of love, and was overcome with emotion when the crowd started an impromptu chorus after “Zum Laichen und Sterben ziehen die Lachse den Fluss hinauf”. He even stopped the drummer, who had started paying the next song, to conduct the crowd.

The clouds darkened as we headed over to Bones MC & RAF Camora. The slow countdown on the screens interspersed with images of fast cars, pet alligators, guns and bling neatly summarised the theme of the show going forward. The 60 minutes of gangster rap culminated in fireworks and a giant animatronic alligator with glowing eyes taking up half the stage.

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The penultimate band on the Green Stage today were AnnenMayKantertereit. Baby-faced with a voice like 60 years of whisky and cigarettes, lead singer Henning May’s soulful ballads were not what you would expect from the main stage at 9 pm. However, the band had paid their dues, working their way up the line up over the past years. The arena was packed for this mellow, laid-back set. A great warm-up for Thirty Seconds to Mars.

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My personal highlight were the headliners of the blue stage, the hip-hop/pop duo SDP. Starting off behind a canvas, a remix of their new album opener (“Übertreiba”) playing, the band gave 110% from the moment the canvas dropped. Running and jumping across the stage, they teased out every last ounce of the crowd’s energy. Giant beach balls were released into the crowd for “Leider Wieder Da” and the set was accompanied by flames and fireworks. Things slowed down for a couple of ballads in the second half, both singers coming down into the crowd to sing “So Schön Kaputt”. The final song finished with sparks flying over the crowd and the band took their customary photo with the audience.

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Jared Leto, frontman of Thirty Seconds to Mars came on stage for their headlining slot dressed in sparkly white robes with a long cape. I was expecting a costume change at some point, but he stayed with this “Glam-Jesus” look for the duration of the show. The first wave of the crowd was covered with flags, an unusual sight for a German festival. This was all well and good until a load of large balloons were released during “This Is War”. These promptly got stuck between the flag poles. It was amusing to watch, though probably not the intended effect. The same happened again with the myriad of animal pool inflatables that were thrown into the crowd a short while later during “Rescue Me”. There was a certain dissonance between the vibe of the music and the flamingos, unicorns and dolphins bobbing around in the crowd. At one point, Jared Leto was picking fans from the crowd to join him on stage before getting distracted by a red balloon hovering behind him on stage, presumably caught in the airflows on stage. Leto stood there mesmerised for a moment before returning to picking fans to join him. The show finished with a large group of fans running on to the stage behind him while he sang “Closer To The Edge”.

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Sunday

Temperatures reached 30°C on Sunday, so we took a break at the festival beach, complete with ice cream and a swim in the lake.

Up bright and early, Schmutzki played a wake-up gig on the campsite at 11 am, which is as good as 6 am by festival standards. There were no amps but the gathered crowd sang everything, including the guitar riffs. They even managed to get a crowd surfer all the way around the little platform the band was on. That afternoon, Schmutzki returned to the Blue Stage, as did the crowd, which had now doubled in size. I did not expect to see the biggest circle pit of the weekend in the last 20 seconds of a show at four in the afternoon on a Sunday, but there you go. The backdrop was a small, red banner with the band logo, hanging at a jaunty angle behind the stage, perfectly encapsulating the band’s scrappy attitude.

After a brief afternoon downpour, the sun was back for Frank Turner & Sleeping Souls. The smartly dressed British folk-punk band addressed the crowd in near-perfect German and encouraged them to join in by jumping and clapping along. Turner explained that at past festivals he had the issue of explaining what mandolins were to punk crowds and what circle pits were to folk crowds. Luckily, the Highfield crowd were familiar with both and duly formed the latter. As per Turner’s instructions, everyone walked slowly at first before speeding up as the song got going. Very Fun.

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Old punk favourites The Offspring attracted a huge crowd as the weather darkened. They played a couple of new songs including “It Won’t Get Better” and turned the arena into a field of stars during “Gone Away” as fans held up lighters and phones. As the set moved on to fan favourites such as “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” and “The Kids Aren’t Alright”, lightning forked in the distance. The organisers declared a weather warning, but the party went on. Due to the slight overlap between acts on the two stages, a large section of the crowd started moving towards the Blue Stage during “You’re Gonna Go Far Kid”, dancing and singing along the whole way.

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Just as Blue Stage headliners Fettes Brot began playing the thunderstorm arrived and the heavens opened. The performance was temporarily suspended, and the arena evacuated. The storm passed and the show was back on the row within 45 minutes. Fettes Brot put on a fun, high-energy hip-hop show backdropped by a selection of large neon signs. Like many other performers of the weekend, the band encouraged everyone to vote in the upcoming state election as well as join the upcoming Friday’s for Future event. In general, the festival had a very pro-democracy message, with large banners encouraging punters to vote and get involved with politics.

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Sunday night headliner Steve Aoki’s stage design was simply a screen across the whole stage, continued across the front his decks. After the intro, he popped up in the centre of the stage and kicked off with “Bella Ciao”. Thanking everyone for staying through the rain he set off into a visually intense set including streamers and pyrotechnics. The screens created a seamless image across the whole stage with him in the middle and showed a concoction of weird and wonderful video clips. Alongside various 3d rendered visuals, he also sampled clips from Game of Thrones, Pokemon and Lion King. For the latter, he used the circle of life scene but with his face on Simba’s face. Aoki was visibly having a great time on stage, climbing on his decks and inciting a lot of audience hand waving. The show was a rollercoaster of emotions, with moving tributes to Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and Avicii as well as Aoki throwing giant cakes into the audiences face during “Cakeface”. The rave EDM style was unusual for the Highfield festival, and the crowd was a little thinner than you would expect for a headliner. But those that stayed were treated to a psychedelic party to see off the weekend in exuberant style.

Highfield Festival is a perfect little festival with a huge range of acts. The lakeside setting and the international mix of bands make it a gem in the festival calendar, and one not to be missed.

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Highfield 2018 – Full Review!

Highfield festival takes place yearly by the Strömthaler Lake near Leipzig, in East Germany. It’s small (35,000 guests) with two stages (Green and Blue). Most notably, Highfield has a beach that is open to guests throughout the day. There’s a DJ stage on the beach along with drinks stands, so the festival vibe is guaranteed

As with most German festivals, the area in front of the stage is divided into waves by barriers. Only a limited number of people can be in the first wave as a measure against injuries from overcrowding. There is a one-way system in place, in one side, out the other so that numbers can be monitored. While this can be frustrating if you miss out on a spot for your favourite band, it does make it easier to move within the crowd.

Another difference that sets this festival apart is the German culture of “Pfand” which is a deposit you pay on bottles, cans and, at festivals, cups. This means every plastic cup is worth 2 euros that you get back when you return the cup, which helps make Highfield a green festival.

Friday

Arriving on Friday, the weather was very hot and very dry. Across the campsite, heated matches of flunkyball (Germany’s second national sport) were in full swing. It’s a classic game of ‘do well, get drunk’. Two teams stand across from each other, each with cans of beer at their feet. A ball is thrown at a half full bottle of water in the centre. If you hit, your team drinks as long as it takes the opposing team to rectify the bottle. First team to finish their drinks, wins.

Once a camping spot was found there was only time for rudimentary peg work, just enough to mark our camping territory. Before we headed straight to the lake. A good swim provided a much needed cool down and relaxed us, ready for the weekend ahead.

The tent was fastened down properl, the “HighViech” – a fish-like creature – and festival mascot welcomed us to the main site.

Appearing for the third time at Highfield, Gogol Bordello kicked things off with their trademark gypsy punk. It was early evening and the crowd still small. However, what they lacked in volume they made up for in enthusiasm; dancing, jumping, jigging. Lead singer Eugene Hütz, sporting the classic punk look “shirtless with blazer”, directed the crowd with his energy. Mixing it up from the usual beer on stage, Hütz opted for a classier bottle of red wine. That didn’t stop him pouring it all over stage and crowd throughout his set.  As the set went on, the New Yorker band drew a bigger and bigger crowd with their infectious tunes that you couldn’t help but dance to.

Infectious but in a different, more hip-hop way, the 257ers took the blue stage by storm. The queue for the first wave was mounting as fans were eager to get up close and personal in the mosh pits. The band, named after their home postcode, started off with a three horror clowns accompanied by whimsical circus music, setting the tone for the one-hour set. Notorious for their costume changes, the duo dressed as pirates, Dutch football shirts and Hawaiian shirts, each outfit referencing a different song in the set. They were also accompanied by at least three extras on stage, dressed up and firing up the crowd. Costume changes take time, so to keep the crowd entertained the DJ played everything from nursery rhymes to crazy frog. At one point he got the whole crowd to crouch down but instead of the anticipated beat drop, Whitney Houston’s I will always love you rang out, much to the amusement of everyone. Refreshments were kindly provided in the form of a giant tube pouring beer into the crowd and several foam cannons. The set was light-hearted and fun, asking the important in Warum (Why) including “why can’t we ride bears to work?” and an entire song about the benefits and uses of wood, which in German is entirely free of innuendo. After their performance last year got cut short due to extreme weather, they vowed that this time we would party to the absolute limit. And we did.

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fri - 257ers - watermark-18

As we headed to the Green Stage we were greeted with the complete opposite of the 257ers,with Clueso on the stage. As a much-needed calm after 257ers, the mix of pop, hip-hop and reggae got crowds singing and swaying. His performance of Zusammen (Together) was a surprise as it appears on the new album by Die Fantastischen Vier featuring Clueso. Considering that the former are due to play on Sunday I would have expected it in the headliners set. But Clueso made it a loving tribute by including verses from some of their best songs, and the crowd loved it.

A weather warning for the approaching storm had been in place from the start of the set. As the first notes of the final song –Verlierer (Loosers) – sounded, the stage and crowds were bathed in blue light, and the heavens opened.

The crowd, undeterred, turned into a sea of complementary, red ponchos and carried on. The Ferris wheel and giant wooden Jägermeister Stag with flaming antlers made an impressive backdrop for the Dropkick Murphys, made even more dramatic by the lightning storm in the background. Much in the vein of Gogol Bordello, the bands Celtic punk moved to crowds to dance the rain away.

In an ambitious attempt to pull off a semi-acoustic set at 22:30, Alligatoah invited us down into the sewers with him via an impressive stage design. Sporting the appropriate blue overalls, flatcap and yellow wellies and accompanied by an electric organ he worked his way through funky versions of his discography. His songs dripping in irony about society including beauty standards (Du bist schön  (You are beautiful)), throw away culture (Lass liegen (Leave it)) and most ironic of all, the music industry Musik ist keine Lösung (Musik isn’t a solution). Being an acoustic set, he relied on the crowd to sing the electric guitar part of Willst du (Do you want to), and they were more than happy to comply. Help was again required for a verse of Trostpreis (Consolation Prize), sung by Timi Hendrix on the record, and the audience performed flawlessly.

fri - alligatoah - watermark-07

fri - alligatoah - watermark-07

Rounding off the first night, the Canadian Billy Talent took to the Green stage. A staple of the Festival circuit and currently touring their fifth studio album “Afraid of Heights”, the band returns to Highfield for a second year running as their set was cancelled due to heavy thunderstorms last year. Lead singer Benjamin Kowalewicz worked the crowd, who responded singing back at him. Finishing with Red Flag and Fallen leaves, the set was worth the one year wait for sure.

Saturday

The plan for Saturday morning was obvious. Get out of the boiling hot tent and go swim. By no means the first with the good idea, the beach was already filled at 9:30 in the morning. The air was a little cooler, but the water no less refreshing than yesterday. Some people were playing beach volleyball, some lying on beach towels playing cards. Crepes for breakfast (what else?) and we headed down to the main site.

We dipped into Swiss und die Anderen, heavy Antifa punk rap. Not our cup of tea, although the crowd was absolutely loving it. Mosh. Pits. Everywhere. Next up on our timetable was Sondaschule, the punk-ska band from the so called Ruhrgebiet, an area famous for its former coal industry. Whether it was the band itself or the following headliners was uncertain, but the crowd had definitely become more punk heavy. From colourful mohawks the leather jackets, the tone of the evening program of the Green stage was set. When the band dedicated a song to what they considered the most beautiful city in the world, the girls near the front holding a “Mühlheim Ruhr”, the home city of the band, sign got excited. But instead of the song of the same name, the chilled reggae beat of Amsterdam began to play. Showers of confetti exploded from the crowd. It’s quite common for German festival guests to bring bags of paper confetti. It makes for great atmosphere and is 100% biodegradable. A win – win. The band thanked everyone for the warm welcome for their first time here at Highfield. Towards the end of the set the band introduced a song from their new acoustic album, the song RIP Audio, which they recoded together with Ingo from the Donots, who had not arrived on site yet. Once again, the crowd stepped up and took over the guest vocals.

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sat - sondaschule - watermark-10

Lunchtime came around and it was finally time for the burger we had travelled over 700 miles for. The wild boar burger from the Hirsch&Eber stall. With onions cooked in port and a cranberry mayonnaise it is without a doubt one of the best burgers I have had to date. If you want to argue with me on that, you can come to Highfield next year and try one for yourself.

Bad Religion were meant to play Saturday afternoon but had to cancel at short notice due to a family emergency. Instead, German festival veterans the Donots stepped up and filled the slot. Undoubtedly leading to one of my personal highlights. The crowd welcomed them with open arms, chanting their name at every opportunity. Lead singer, Ingo Donot, told us they had struggled to get a bus in time and almost didn’t find a dog sitter in time leading to Wake the Dogs.

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sat - donots - watermark-11

Highfield festival had been working with Viva con Agua, a charity providing clean water across the world, for many years. Besides a stand where you can donate there are also people around the site with bins where you can donate your cups and corresponding Pfand. The band got circle pits forming around the bins encouraged everyone to donate their cups while playing Do what you want, a cover to console the Bad Religion fans in the crowd.

Ingo is everybody’s hype-man, excitedly announcing all their friends who were still to play this weekend. This included Flogging Molly whose bassist, Nathen Maxwell, joined them on stage for Kein Problem (No Problem). Finishing the set with So long, the crowds chanted the chorus long after the song had finished, moving the band to tears. It’s fair to say that no one regretted the substitution.

Later, the Swedish garage rock band The Hives took to the Green Stage. The most strikingly dressed of the weekend, everything was black and white. The suits, the guitars, the backdrop. They also had a crew of ninjas doing all the cable management and guitar swaps. The securities in the pit did their best to keep the crowds cool, throwing and handing out water. Lead singer, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, went straight into the crowd, wasting no time to get acquainted. The music was fantastic, raw guitar riffs and hoarse vocals. Everything between became a little tedious. Coming across somewhat arrogant, Howlin’ Pelle constantly demanded the crowds cheer, even starting his own encore chant. At some point the audience had had enough, not really responding anymore. A shame, since everyone still had a great time with the music.

This year’s Saturday headliners, the Broilers, can in many ways be considered the descendants of last year’s Saturday headliners Die Toten Hosen. They started out as their support act, being mentored by them and signed to the DTHs own record label. They had big boots to fill, with many people questioning if they were ready for the headline slot. But once they got started, all doubts subsided, and they stepped up flawlessly. Their horn section giving them their trademark ska-punk sound, the crowd was loving it from the get go. When you have a horn section, clearly the natural thing to do is cover the Ghostbuster theme tune. The Broilers are a band where dancing and moshing are equally valid ways to celebrate their music. Small moshpits here and there, but also a paramedic on a break dancing with his girlfriend. It felt like everyone was welcomed into the Broiler family that night. The mood then got more serious with the more recent song Keine Hymnen Heute (No hymns today), a song describing the prohibition of a lot of art during the second world war. The backdrop showed videos of Nazi soldiers burning books as a grim warning against populism and rising right wing sentiments. The pyrotechnics sounding like gunshots. What followed was undeniably one of the most emotional parts of the festival. During Ihr da oben (You up there) the screen showed a collage of photos the band had asked fans to send in for the music video. It showed loved ones that had passed away. The range of photos was particularly striking, as it included young children and babies alongside grandparents. It really drove home the momentous amount of loss and grief contained in all those images.

The tempo picked up again with Held in unserer Mitte (Hero in our midst), with circle pits forming around the bands handpicked audience members. The show finished with fireworks and I think everyone agreed, the Broilers are headliner material.

As is tradition at German festivals there was a general protest against the far right and populism. Whether its moshing against (and on) Nazis, the antifascist charity “Kein Bock auf Nazis” or anti-nazi chants. Many bands had banners saying “Refugees Welcome”. As people were chanting “Nazis out”, the Donots quite rightly pointed out that people needed to go shout these things at counter demonstrations, not just here, where there were no neo-nazis.

Sunday

Sunday started the way all festival Sundays start, the long arduous trek back to the car, laden with bags. The weather was even hotter than the past few days, making this by far the worst part of the experience. Oh the price you pay for camping close to the site and far away from the car park. Once that was over we could get back to the good bit.

Sunday afternoon was Brit indie-pop time on the Blue Stage. Maximo Park’s Paul Smith overdressed, as always, in a blue suit, hat and shades. Dancing enthusiastically through a set spanning all six studio albums, the band started on Girls who play guitar and finished with Apply some pressure. The crowd favourite was definitely Books from boxes. Throughout the set Smith addressed the crowd in broken but endearing German, making sure everyone drank enough water and were having a good time.

A black backdrop with a hypnotising wombat with rainbow eyes marked the next band. The Wombats started out with the lively Cheetah Tongue. The audience had a surprising knowledge of all the songs, singing along and dancing. The award for most crowd confetti thrown definitely goes to The Wombats, with the stuff flying left right and centre. We learnt intimate details, like the argument score between lead singer, Matthew Murphy, and his wife stands at roughly zero to three million. The band also introduced Steve, “The hardest working squirrel in Europe”, who was a plush sitting on the drum kit. Naturally met with chants of “STEVE, STEVE, STEVE”. The next album will be consisting of elevator music, the demo of which promptly turned into Moving to New York. The set peaked with Let’s Dance to Joy Division, causing the biggest explosion of crowd confetti yet. It was a perfect summer afternoon dance party.

By the time Madsen came onto the Green stage, everything was bathed in golden light from the setting sun. Their backdrop a space shuttle from their new album “Lichtjahre (Light years)”, the band celebrated the bassists birthday and started the first ever ladies only circle pit I’ve seen.

By the side of the first wave, two little girls in giant fluorescent headphones were dancing away when a security guard called them over to give them each a carton of water. They repaid him with a handful of confetti. A fair trade I’d say.

Halfway through the Madsen set on the Green stage, the Editors took to the Blue stage. Seeing the meager crowd they were about to go on stage for almost made you feel sorry for them. The backdrop, taken from the cover from their latest album “Violence”, was a dark picture of contorted bodies. Although mildly distressing, it does fit the general vibe of the band. They walked on in silence and started to play their first song. Afterwards the lead singer Tim Smith said a shy “dankeschön, guten abend” and carried on. As the set progressed he seemed to warm up to the crowd, addressing them more freely and encouraging them to put their hands up for songs. His motions across the stage were creeping and primal, almost mesmerising. The crowd had gathered as the set went on, so by the time Papillon started, there was enough of a crowd to properly welcome their favourite. Jumping, singing and waving hands in a butterfly like fashion as the sun set on the final festival day.

Which of the two stages hosted the true headliner is up for debate. The Blue Stage, pioneers of German rap, Die Fantastischen Vier were scheduled to play right up until the point that one of the biggest German rappers right now, Materia, was to take to the Green stage and give the festival the finale it deserves. It was clear the crowds were torn. Get a good spot for Materia and miss out on the band without which he wouldn’t even exist? See the undisputed bedrock of the genre and miss out on a spot in the midst of what promised to be the craziest party of the weekend?

Enough people decided on the latter, the first wave being packed like never before. A huge banner of the new album, “Captain Fantastic”, covered the stage. As the first beats of Tunnel boomed across the grounds, the banner came down to reveal the band, already hyping the crowd. The crowd were with them from the first song with more energy than I’d seen for anyone else this weekend. The backdrop was a rectangle of screens with a fabric banner in the middle, an unusual set up. The hype kept up for about ten songs, the group behind me insisting to express their excitement through five-man moshpit. The set slowed down in the middle with Tag am Meer (Day at the Seaside) which was a shame following the energetic start. Normally, a calm song or two gives to audience a chance to catch their breath. In this case, people started leaving to go to the other stage. As the show went on, the tempo picked up again. Zusammen (Together) was performed for the second time this weekend, this time with Clueso singing his part via video on the screens on stage.

The band left the stage before the three-song encore, at which point they started hemorrhaging audience members. At this point they were clearly going to run over and into the set time of Materia. The proximity of the sets split the audience and to me that was the biggest failure of the organisers. The remaining crowd went mental for the encore, more than making up for their decreased numbers with their energy. The set finished, and everyone rushed to the Green stage to hear the last lines of Materia’s Endboss.

 Even though only two songs had passed, the crowd was already warmed up and ready to riot. Bengalische Tiger (Bengal Tigers) caused red flares to erupt in the crowd and on stage, making for a spectacular view. The melancholic Tauchstation, which is an an idiom meaning secluding yourself, bringing everyone back down with its hypnotic, submarine-like sounds, followed by the ode to the Blue Marlin. The deep bass vibrating everything in reach.

At this point, Materia took a moment to thank Viva con Agua for their work and encouraged everyone to through their cups on stage on the count of three. This led to the bizzare spectacle of plastic cups flying through the crowd, rarely reaching the stage, instead being picked up and thrown further forwards. It looked like hundreds of tiny plastic dolphins, making their way to the stage. Given the value of 2 euros per cup it was likely 1000 euros worth of donations flying about. Talk about making it rain.

Materia is currently promoting his joint album with Casper, “1982”. Both were on site together earlier in the day giving autographs and taking selfies with fans. It therefore came as no surprise to suddenly see the two on stage together performing the first joint single Champion. None the less the crowd flipped, making it clear that this collaboration is hotly anticipated. The mood remained ecstatic as the duo performed their second single Supernova. As a crowning finale to the joint performance, they premiered their third song Adrenalin. On top of the first reveal, the two also announced they were filming the music video at the festival. Naturally, the crowd pulled out all the stops, no doubt providing a sensational backdrop.

From there on, the set escalated from song to song. One hit after another, culminating in Feuer – Fire, obvious pyrotechnics included. Materia’s alter ego Marsimoto made an appearance for a verse. Cloaked in bright green smoke and wearing his metallic green mask his arrival caused a brief change of pace before returning to the high-octane finale of Feuer.

Finally, Materia teased every last ounce of energy out of the crowd with his Letzte 20 Sekunden (Last 20 seconds). The audience jumped, waved and threw shirts, moshed and tore the place apart. At one point the show master himself descended from the stage to party with his fans, right in the centre of the first wave. It seemed neither crowd nor band wanted it to be over. Materia dancing with his band on stage, waving a Rostock football flag and hugging everyone. It was a night that no one wanted to end.

The Highfield festival is too small to draw an array of big international names, maybe getting one per year. Personally, I think the appeal lies in the atmosphere. The beach makes it feel more like a holiday and the line-up is one you can dip in and out of without the notorious fear of missing out that plagues big festivals. If you’re into German music then you’re guaranteed to find something, including high caliber performance. It’s a niche for international visitors, but definitely worth checking out if you fancy a chilled weekend by a lake with mostly great weather.

Deichbrand Festival 2018 – Full Review!

Deichband festival is a festival with a bit of a twist. Located just a few km from the coast of the North Sea, Deichbrand has branded itself as the festival ‘on the North Sea’. And while this is not completely true, it does do hourly trips to the sea, where punters are offered the chance to try paddle boarding and surfing. In previous years there’ also been the opportunity to fly over the festival in a helicopter, though they’ve had to cancel it this year for various reasons. Though a lot of people were upset, most of the punters I spoke to say they were glad they weren’t going to have to deal with a helicopter over their campsite every twenty minutes.

There’s a huge variety of food a drink across the main site and throughout the fields with the smaller stages. The food ranges from typical German fast food dönner (similar to our donner kebabs) through to a Pakistani company serving tradition food, the noodle place and of course the German favourites of ‘pommes & wurst’ (sausage and chips), burgers (including wild boar and rib burgers) and ‘pommes am stiel’ – chips on a stick. There’s also vegetarian options, and what’s more, there’s variety in that as well. There’s your standard pasta – in this case gnocci – but there’s also vegetarian kebab wraps with halloumi or vegan ones with falafel.

As with every German festival, Deichbrand supports ¡Viva Con Auga! A charity that improves the drinking water and supply in developing counties such as Cuba, Kenya and Nepal. To help with this almost all German festivals have a ‘pfand’ (deposit) of €2 for all the cups bought at the bars onsite. You then have a choice to return the cups to the bar and get your ‘pfand’ back – in which case, well done on cutting down on waste – or, you can give it to one of the many volunteers onsite who will then recycle it for you and get the ‘pfand’ for their charity. So it’s really a win – win for the environment and the charity. It’s an excellent idea, and though I’ve said it before it’s worth mentioning again, it should be implemented at UK festival in order to cut down on the waste that festivals always cause.

As well as the music, Deichbrand offers a number of workshops, which though common in UK festivals isn’t something I’ve seen much of abroad. There’s the classics, masseuse training, morning yoga and circus school, as well as a few more unusual act ivies like  beer yoga (like normal yoga but you’ve got a cold beer in your hands and you can’t spill it) rock-climbing and parkour sessions.

Deichbrand is a small festival, with four stages, two big ones (fire and water). The first act of the afternoon is double act the 257ers. And when I say double act I mean it in the comedic sense. The band have produced five albums, which pretty solidly consist of comedy songs. Their last album ‘Mikrokosmos’ (Micro-cosmos) reach number one in the German charts, with songs such as ‘holz’ – an entire song dedicated to how much they love wood. Not the kind of wood you’re thinking off right now, just normal wood. From trees. I know, they are a bit weird. But that’s why we love them. Their performance is littered with costume changes, including going from their Adidas shirts into their captain kit for their Pirate song (a weird sea-shanty type song) and into orange (Dutch) football tops. The costume changes do take a minute or two, and while they get changed we were entertained by their DJ who played an interesting mix of songs, from Whitney Huston to Crazy Frog back to Papa Roach back through to Beyoncé. He then got out from behind his decks and gave one end of a massive tube to the crowd, while he poured beer down his end, creating a kind of oversized beer straw for the people in the crowd. During the next song, the 257ers got down from the stage and sprayed a foam cannon out to the crowd, who were going wild and feeding off the energy that was being thrown from the stage. During one of the mosh pits they’d encouraged the audience to create they spotted a man in a knitted octopus mask, and shouted ‘Zoidberg! Three years!’ – Apparently this guy always goes to festivals with this mask on, and it’s paid off. 257ers noticed him, and they’ve even made note of how many times they’ve seen him. I think it was pretty cool that not only did they notice him but they also made a point of pointing him out.  They’ve also got songs like ‘Holland’ which is an ode to the country of its namesake, with lines like ‘Nobody’s aggro, everyone’s tripping, Holland is the boss, I think windmills are cool’ which, I mean. They’re just such good fun, both to listen to and to watch up on stage.

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fri - 257ers - watermark-13_1

Friday evening was officially started by Scottish singer Amy Macdonald, who played a fantastic set. Though many of her songs are sung with an American accent, as soon as she spoke to the audience it was clear that she is Scottish through and through. The audience knew this, which was evident from the amount of St. Andrews’ crosses strewn across the crowd. Macdonald commented on the weather (and the dust) and how she couldn’t cope Scottish skin. During her set she tried to read a few signs in the audience, a classic ‘we love you’ sign that she comment on and thanked the people that wrote it, saying it ‘looked like it’d taken them ages to make’ and she saw a sign further back that she commented on but couldn’t read. Later in her set she spotted someone holding a sign and asked them ‘you’re asking to sing someone else’s song on stage? What would I get out of it? It’s not in my setlist’ – someone in the crowd had made a sign asking if they could sing Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in The Dark’. Macdonald then conceded, saying ‘alright then, get up here’ and this guy was brought up onto the stage. He was completely star struck, as you would be, Macdonald kept asking him his name and all he could do was gasp. Eventually, with some whispered encouragement from the guitarist, this guy manage to speak into the mic and tell us his name was Patrick. Macdonald then said they couldn’t do the whole song, but they could do a verse and a chorus. So, they started singing as Macdonald played along with her guitar, and it turned out that Patrick could sing. And I mean *sing*. He had an absolutely amazing voice, and what’s more is that it

harmonised perfectly with MacDonald’s. It’s not hard to imagine how WILD the crowd were going as soon they realised he could sing. It was evident he was still star struck, but the fact that he managed to not only sing, but sing well in front of an audience easily 5,000 strong. After they sang together Patrick was quickly ushered off the stage beaming and passed onto security backstage, where he was greeted with high-fives. Macdonald resumed the show and finished off her set with her chart topping single ‘This is the Life’.

 

Casper headlined on Friday night, and, unusually for him he came on stage full of colour. He was wearing a yellow jacket and seemed a bit livelier than in previous times. Whether this is a move away from his generally darker rap or just a blip, is still undecided. The amazing light show was the perfect ending for the energetic day that had been Friday.

Saturday

Saturday afternoon started off with London shanty punk band Skinny Lister jumping on to the stage and immediately energising everyone in the area. Skinny Lister have the ability to turn a gig, no matter the size, into a party where it feels like everyone’s been invited. A lot of the crowd clapped and swayed along in time to the music, but part of the crowd (arguably the better part) started dancing, jigging and stomping along to their hearts content. The jumping/dancing/jigging caused all the dust in on the ground (which I have decided is probably at least half of the entire world’s supply of dust) went up into the air, obscuring the band and pretty much everything else. They did comment on it, vocalist/guitarist/stomp-boxist Dan Heptinstall saying ‘we’re in the Deichbrand Dustbowl’ and vocalist Lorna Thomas later commented that they’ll be touring (though probably not until the new year when the next album is due to be released) and we could go and see them in a less dusty setting. As always, Skinny Lister provided the audience with refreshments in the form of a jug with a mysterious mixture of what one can only assume is just alcohol. The Jug (affectionately referred to as the 7th member of Skinny Lister) was passed around the audience as everyone took a sip on it, before being passed back up to the stage – now empty. The free alcohol is one of the bonuses of seeing Skinny Lister live, though the main draw is the amount of positive energy that comes pouring off the stage when the play. It’s also worth going just to watch double bassist Scott Milsom lift his double bass over his WHILE playing it. It’s a pretty amazing thing to watch.

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sat - skinny lister - watermark-10

The next act of the afternoon are indie pop band Von Wegen Lisbeth from Berlin. Von Wegen Lisbeth are a quirky pop act, using steel drums and xylophones in their music as well as the standard keyboards, guitars bass’ and drums. They had the stage covered in greenery, plastic leaves, vines and branches littered the set.  Behind them they had the letters ‘V’ ‘W’ and ‘L’ lit up on big squares – you’ve got to admit that’s a lot easier than spelling out their lengthy name.

As we wander towards the end of the evening the Fire Stage is hosting Brummie indie-rockers, The Editors. Their dark, synth-y sound and ambiguous lyrics do feel slightly out of place in the afternoon sun, it’s still 24℃. What’s more, is that they came on stage to Abba’s ‘gimme gimme gimme (a man after midnight)’ – again, a stark contrast from the broody and moody set they are known for. They opened their set with the first track of their new album ‘cold’. In fact, a lot of their set was taken from their new album, ‘violence’ as was the back-drop for the show, three naked and dirty people wrapped around each other. It’s very…Hannibal-esque, actually. But I guess that does fit with their image. They did of course play crowd favourites, including ‘Sugar’, ‘Munich’ and ‘Papillion’. They ended their set with Magazine, another one from their new album. It was a really good set, overall. It would have been nice to have a little bit more interaction with the crowd, but apart from that it was a nice, standard Editors show.

As the sun had finally set the crowd gathered around the fire stage for the final act of the night. The Killers. The band coming towards the end of their European tour – which this time around has included the festival circuit, playing at the Isle of Wight Festival as well as TRNSMT in Glasgow and Summer in the City in Dublin.

They opened with their newest track ‘The Man’ and the crowd due fully danced along, but once they’d finished, lead singer Brandon Flowers asked the audience if they were ready to party with the killers – all in German, which was pretty impressive. After the resounding ‘JA’ from the audience they went straight into ‘Somebody told me’ which had the entire crowd going absolutely mad. They followed it with ‘Space man’ and Flowers’ was dancing across the stage, in full glory with his gold and black shiny jacket. Clean shaven and boy-faced, he looks decades younger than his bandmates, all of whom are bearded and looking somewhat grizzled. As he danced around the stage the dust had been blown onto the stage and by the third song – – Midnight Show – (a throwback from the 2004 album Hot Fuss) Flowers’ had a facemask made entirely of dust and dirt. The set list was a good mix from all their albums, though after his attempt at German Flowers’ was lacking on the audience interaction. However, this was probably because he didn’t have much breath left what with all the singing and jumping and running the entire length of the stage for each song. Something should also be said for the visuals, the lights were great, as most big production shows are, with enough lasers and strobes to fill a boat. But what was really nice was the attention to detail. The confetti shot out of the cannons the second time round was in the German colours, which I thought was a nice touch. The first lot of confetti was pink, and I think it surprised everyone when it came out at the start of ‘somebody told me’. I don’t know what it is, but we in the crowd never seem to expect confetti at the start of a show. In the middle of the set they played ‘Runaways’ which bled seamlessly into ‘Read my mind’ which then again blended into ‘All these things that I’ve done’ which was not only incredibly interesting and pleasing to listen to, but also really quite impressive.

As well as the band on stage, they had three women doing the backing vocals, all of whom had absolutely stunning voices and really gave some depth to the whole show. They finished their set with ‘When you were young’ to 50,000 voices singing along, and fireworks coming down from the top of the stage. They thanked the audience as they walked off stage. No one left the arena, we all knew what we were waiting for. We couldn’t see The Killers and have them NOT play it. We waited, anticipation building, cries of ‘encore’ and ‘one more song’ erupting now and again from various pockets in the crowd. The screen on the stage went black. The large, orange words appeared on it. Three words. Are. We. Human? They came back on to cries and cheers and woops, as we knew they would. The first few notes were played, and though it wasn’t the song we’d waited for, the crowd still went mad, dancing and moshing and singing along. Once it was over there was barely a pause before Flowers’ started singing – with heavy auto-tune – ‘coming out of my cage and I’ve been doing just fine…’ and the this was it. This is what almost everyone there had come to see. The first verse was done with heavy auto-tune – it was a remix, what this effectively meant was that we got an extra verse. Once the auto-tune verse had finished, Flowers’ started singing without it, and ended the night in a spectacular way.  

Sunday

I wasn’t sure why Alligatoah was playing early on the Sunday morning. Well, early in the festival bubble, he was onstage at 12pm, and the first act of the day. I knew a couple of songs from him, and though he was performing an acoustic set, I still wasn’t convinced that he was the right person to start off Sunday afternoon. However, any doubts I had were quickly put to rest. He had an extensive set for an early afternoon act. The stage was set up like a building site and Alligatoah was wearing blue overalls and a builder’s hat. Throughout his set he clambered up and down the ladders and across his ‘building site’ and when he started singing ‘Willst Du’ – one of his more famous songs – he was singing it to a traffic cone in a very loving manner. His set was full of character in a very gentle way. He was friendly to the audience throughout his set, and the lazy Sunday morning vibe was helped by the fact the crowd in the first wave were all sitting on chairs that had been set up for them – presumably by the festival rather than the artist. Alligatoah also explained that he should have had a red balloon at the top of his building site set so it looked like something out of Stephen King’s IT, but it had blown away. Halfway through the set Alligatoah revealed that one of the bin bags that had been put on the stage around the building site set had been hiding a piano, which was actually a pretty cool reveal. I was impressed with the set and thought it was the perfect kick-off for the last day of the festival.

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sun - alligatoah - watermark-27

Not knowing any songs from Bosse, I was unsure what to expect from the singer. I’d heard that he was really good and was surprised at the range of people in the audience that came to see him. It seemed as if Bosse ws something that everyone was excited for. The crowd was a mixture of all ages and people from all walk of life. The sizable band came on stage, followed shortly by Axel Bosse, running onto stage. Wearing a ‘Refugee’s Welcome’ Shirt, he danced around on stage like a man possessed. He didn’t seem phased by the heat which I can only imagine was even more intense on the stage that it was off it, he ran from each side of the stage and onto the catwalk, all the time dancing and singing and not pausing to take a breath.     

SDP are a two-man band (not including the drummer and a dj of course) who have an astounding amount of energy on stage. The lyrics to the songs range from the heartfelt (Candlelight dönner) to the ridiculous (deine freundin) to the absurd (ne leiche). And of course no SDP set would be complete without stage antics, blow up sex dolls and fireworks and pyrotechnics. Honestly, it’s like giving over-grown children full control over their own birthday party.  Halfway through the set they brought out their sex doll (see what I mean) and tried (and failed) to perform CPR on it, before launching in to ‘Ne Leiche’ (literally – ‘a corpse’).  

Final act of the evening – and the weekend – were German super band – Die Toten Hosen. Everyone in Germany (and Argentina for some reason) knows about Die Toten Hosen. Toten Hosen have been around for over 36 years, one of the bands that started the punk movement in Germany in the 80s during the latter years of the cold war. The band have been prolific since their creation in Düsseldorf, releasing albums every few years which means their back catalogue is impressively huge. Their set included the best songs from their discography, including old favourites like ‘Bonnie & Clyde’, ‘Pushed Again’ and ‘Paradies’ as well as classics from their early, un-polished days, like the show opener ‘Opel Gang’ and of course songs from their new album. They also played a number of covers that are new for this tour, most notably ACDC’s ‘T.N.T’ as well as Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’. Toten Hosen frontman Campino has boundless energy – especially for a man his age – and routinely got up close and personal with the crowd. As you would expect with a band that size there was of course two encores, and the night was ended with two classic Toten Hosen songs, ‘Tage wie deise’ (this is the day) and a cover of the Liverpool FC anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, which might seem a bit odd to people not familiar with band, but there is a reason for this strange choice of song to finish off a weekend in Germany. Campino is and has always been a big fan of Liverpool FC, and they’ve been including it in their set for at least the last 20 years. It was a perfect ending to the festival, the entire crowd was singing along and we all got swept up in the moment as they finished the show and the festival.

Deichbrand is a great little festival that’s had a solid line up since it was founded in 2005, and this year didn’t disappoint. Everyone is so friendly during the festival and it is a festival that holds itself to an extremely high standard. I would recommend anyone that’s into rock, rap and pop should go and experience the only festival on the North Sea.

Hurricane Festival 2018 – Full Review!

Friday

Hurricane Festival is in the north of Germany, set in some fields in Scheeβel between Hamburg and Bremen. The current version of Hurricane Festival has been going since 1997, though there were two previous attempts of festivals in the area in 1973 and 1977. Hurricane sells itself as a mainstream/alternative festival, however, in recent years there has been more emphasis on the mainstream and less on the alternative. This year’s line-up is what I would describe as mainstream, however there are a few acts here and there that are showing the alternative past of Hurricane.

Friday started off wet and windy, as is the trend with most festivals at the moment, and was opened by the Hurricane Swim Team on the Green Stage early afternoon. The Hurricane Swim Team was created in 2016 when the festival was a total wash out, and is essentially a hype team that get the crowd grooving in even the most abysmal weather. Luckily, by the time they’d left the stage the weather had in fact improved and we were able to enjoy the sun for the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening.

We got to the second stage – blue stage – to see George Ezra perform in the afternoon light. Ezra has a stunning voice and it he proved that it was not just the studio doing all the work in post processing. He was chatty onstage, and (like a lot of the British and American bands) tried his hand a bit of German, to the glee of the audience. The cherry on the Ezra-shaped cake was definitely the small brass section he’d brought with him, it really added that extra depth to the performance.

 

Experienced punk rock band The Offspring took centre stage on the Green stage (main stage) on Saturday evening. They know how to keep tantalise the audience, saving their three most well-known songs until the end, including Pretty Fly for a White Guy and ending on Self-Esteemed to an audience that was easily two decades younger than them, if not more, which is a pretty good achievement for four shouty guys from California.

The blue stage was again graced with a talented vocalist, this time in the form of Hannah Reid of London Grammar. A far cry away from The Offspring, London Grammar definitely calmed the audience down rather than psyched them up. The mosh pits of Green Stage were replaced with gentle arm waving and head nodding.

Keeping in the UK-indie theme that the blue stage seemingly has had all day, the following band are none other than Two Door Cinema Club, who arrive onstage to a rambunctious welcome. Two Door Cinema Club are the first band that have brought an impressive set on stage, a set of LED squares with bright strobing lights behind, all of which is made more impressive in the dying light of the evening. The crowd happily bopped along to the music, enjoying the show in the dying light.

The green stage was again keeping its theme of emo-punk and rock, with the headline of the night Billy Talent.  The band appeared on stage as the audience cheered and wooped, bassist Jonathan Gallant and guitarist Ian D’Sa started playing the introduction to ‘This is how it goes’ as Benjamin Kowalewicz burst on to stage to rapturous applause and started singing. He had so much energy on stage, dressed like an emo from the late noughties with his skinny tie, skinny black jeans and his converses. In fact, the whole band looked as if they were 15 year olds trapped in the bodies of middle aged men. They acted like it too. Jumping up and down and across the stage, swearing jovially at the audience ‘Welcome to Hurricane 2018 motherfuckers!’ shouted Benjamin after the first song, before launching in to ‘Devil in Midnight Mass’. The whole performance took me back to those angst filled days in high school, where we felt the world was ending and beginning at the same time, and that every song ever written about and specifically for, us. The nostalgia that came with watching Billy Talent was only amplified by the crowd, singing (and in some cases, screaming) along with the songs, as the band ricocheted from one song to the next. About halfway through the set Benjamin mentioned that their drummer – Aaron Solowoniuk – had been struggling with MS, and has been on hiatus since 2016. While Benjamin was telling the crowd this, he also mentioned that the band have been together for 25 years this summer, which is unbelievable. Arron was then introduced onstage as he made his way to the drums, and played with the band for the rest of the show. It was really great to see him playing again, and so obvious that he was thoroughly enjoying being back on stage after two years away. Aaron coming back on stage really gave the band more energy, and they turned it up to 100 for the rest of the show.

After Billy Talent’s finale, it seemed as if the entire crowd moved to Blue Stage, for final act of the night, German hip-hop artist Marteria. Now, I know those words don’t run together naturally, but stick with me here. My level of German is extremely basic (as I found out during a press-pass mix up that caused no end of trouble) but Marteria’s catchy lyrics and playful beats. As well as his skills on the mic he also brought to stage some of the most impressive and playful visuals of the evening. Later in the show he brought on his alter-ego Marismoto who delighted the audience with his high-pitch voiced and his more experimental music, straying from hip-hop and entering the realms of dubstep, reggae and EDM.  With the first night of the festival finished everyone headed back to their tents ready to do the same thing all over again.


Saturday

The campsite was up and bustling by about ten on Saturday, helped by the festival workers driving around on quadbikes using their megaphones to shout ‘time to wake up’ across the campsite. I’m not sure if it was part of their job description but it certainly worked in getting the campsite awake and running. Pretty soon there were queues to the toilet and every other tent was playing flunkyball across the pathways. The campsite radio (provided by Delta Radio) was on blast throughout the campsite, via speakers and radios campers had brought with them, meaning wherever we went we had a surround sound experience of the camp radio. There seemed to be an endless game put on the by the radio hosts, which was to play the Cantina Theme from Star Wars, (or at least an excerpt of it) and, once it had finished someone – either one of the hosts or a punter who had been accosted somewhere on the campsite – would say ‘play that same song again’ and so on and so on. So much so it became the unofficial anthem of the campsite, and probably the weekend.     

Hurricane festival is a lot smaller than most medium UK festivals, with only three stages all relatively close to each other. It means minimal walking between stages and the way that the stages have been positioned has been done with great care, as there is no overlap of sound when each stage has an artist.

Indie-pop act The Kooks took to the Green Stage on Saturday evening for a fun set. They’re still fresh from their ‘Best Of’ album tour, with Hurricane being their first festival of the season. Though they’re no strangers playing to big crowds – they’ve been around since 2004 – they have recently been touring as a warm-up act for The Rolling Stones. This hasn’t diminished their ability to get the crowd dancing, whatever the size. Though I was impressed that even a relatively light band such as The Kooks could get the crowd moshing. Lead singer Luke Pritchard danced around on stage with his tan-and-checked blazer and his skinny scarf, the embodiment of indie-brit-pop. The crowd were loving it and singing along to almost every track, which was pretty magical to listen to. The Kooks do have a new album out but didn’t fall into the age old pitfall of playing only their new stuff, they littered the set with classics as well as slipping the odd new song in now and then. They ended with two classics, Seaside and Naïve to the absolute delight of the audience.

Next up was Hamburg rapper Dendemann, who had a beat-filled set and had the whole crowd moshing along to his music. His music was good, though I’m sure I would have got more enjoyment out of it had I understood the lyrics – he uses a lot of wordplay so for a non-native speaker of German it can be a bit of a struggle to understand. I did understand when he said hello to the crowd and called them a town that certainly wasn’t Hurricane or Scheeβel. His drummer corrected him though and the crowd didn’t seem to care.

Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro have a solid fan-base in Germany and started off their European tour in Berlin early last month. Having last played Hurricane in 2010 they were due for a comeback. And the crowd were ready for it. Mosh pits left right and centre, the whole crowd was there for them. As per usual, all three members were shirtless, though frontman Simon Neil has got rid of the Jesus locks and gone for a cleaner, shorter cut, which if it wasn’t for the mass of tattoos and his roaring vocals he could be mistaken for a graphic designer, or someone equally ordinary. As always with Biffy, the show was intense and the hard rockers had all come out of the woodwork to head-bang their way through the set, as well as all the casual fans that sang along to their hits and mumbled along to the songs that had less radio-play.

Saturday was the first day we ventured to the Red Stage, to see Portugal. The Man. Now, I’m not sure what we expected but it certainly wasn’t what happened. They had a seven minute guitar heavy intro song played before they even came on stage. Once they were on stage the show really began. There had a projector projecting some spacey shapes and colours on the screen behind them. However, unlike most bands, Portugal. The Man had decided to put the projector in front of the stage, so each band member cast shadows throughout the set, changing shape and size as they moved around the stage. They started by playing a cover of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ by Pink Floyd, which was an odd one to start with, however it really set the stage for the rest of their show, a spacey, guitar heavy extravaganza. After their first song some huge lettering came down on the screen behind them, declaring “We are not very good at stage banter so please enjoy these messages from the management, thank you for understanding”. Now, they certainly get points for ingenuity here, although it would have been nice to have a little bit of crowd interaction.  As promised, periodically through the show more writing would appear behind them, such as “that is some bad-ass guitar playing” through a particularly gnarly piece. One thing I particularly enjoyed from Portugal. The Man was the fact that they had a very varied set-list. Starting with that Pink Floyd cover to get the crowd in the mood, before playing and older, spacey track that was guitar heavy and a wee bit light on the lyrics going straight through to ‘Purple Yellow Red and Blue’ (2013) and ‘Live in the Moment’ (2017), two more recent songs that have had more radio play. The audience were a bit muted compared to the other acts of the night, I mean, it is hard to mosh to electro-guitar solos played over light keys and drums.

Going from the Portugal. The Man to The Prodigy was a bit of a jolt. As ever, the Prodigy had a stunning set, fantastic lasers, the crowd was already hopping by the time we got there. The band has been touring for almost three decades and know their stuff. They haven’t played in Germany since 2015, so it was high-time they came back. The set was littered with classics and the crowd went absolutely wild during voodoo people. I mean, it’s The Prodigy, it’s hard not to dance like a maniac with those beats and the amount of pure, raw energy coming off the stage. After the show most people were danced-out and made their way to their tents, the younger and drunker punters also went back to the campsite, but only to enjoy the Motorbooty rave that was going on until 4am the next morning.


Sunday

Security has been amped up to 130%, we were frisked each time we entered the main field, and no bags were allowed unless they were see-through and all pockets had to be emptied and checked. This meant more than anything that there were queues caused by this bottle neck. The crowd spent most of the time in the queues singing various songs which either went in rounds or sped up as they went along. It was amusing the first few times, but when someone in the crowd yelled the first line for the sixth time in a row I did groan inwardly. Fortunately, by that point I was almost through the gates, so didn’t have to listen to a half-hearted rendition of eisgekühlter bommerlunder again.

Once through we headed to the blue stage to kick off the afternoon with a bit of Mighty Oaks. Their folk rock was forgetting everyone off to the right start, despite the persistent cold and rain. Lead-singer Ian Hooper switched from German and English throughout the set, which is unsurprising as the very international band – members from US, UK and Italy – are currently based in Berlin. They had the whole crowd swaying in unison, and at one point encouraged everyone to get on someone’s shoulders and the crowd suddenly got half as wide and twice as tall, as almost everyone in the crowd was on someone’s shoulders or holding someone and singing along. It was such a nice, inclusive atmosphere and a great start to the third and final day of the festival.

Late noughties indie-rock Franz Ferdinand bounced onto the main stage as the afternoon was slowly becoming the evening. Full of energy and full of hits, frontman Alex Kapranos jumped cross the stage as he belted out the lyrics. The audience were bouncy along happily, and singing along, smiling in spite of the rain.

One of the most lively shows of the evening was brought by second to last act on Sunday – Kraftklub. In the last five years Kraftklub have risen from unknown band to the next chart-topping must-see band throughout Germany. The show starts with four red smoke //bombs// going off within the crowd. We can’t see exactly how they’ve been planted but they’ve been concealed for who knows how long. Kraftklub then appear on stage as the banner that has been covering the stage has been pulled down, and as they start their opening number (Karl-Mark-Straβe) the crowd goes absolutely wild. Now, I knew it was going to kick off. Sometimes you can just feel it. Through the first half of the show I was stuck between two mosh pits, by the second half I had decided I was fighting a losing battle, and joined them full force. The moshing continued for the full show, and Kraftklub left to cries of ‘one more song’ as they left the stage. They had twenty minutes left of their set, so we naturally all expected them to come back on stage. They did come back. Just not on stage. They had what can only be describe as a mobile stage, about two meters wide and four meters long, on wheels and being pushed through the crowd. They sang ‘ich will nicht nach Berlin’ before telling the audience they needed to get back to the main stage. The most sensible way to do this was obviously to crowd surf. On top of this, it had to be a race. They prepped the crowd in front of them, and after the third blast from the airhorn, they dived in. They were all scrambling to get to the stage as fast as possible and one of the stage hands was waving a giant checked racing flag as they got to the stage and he announced the winner.  

Headliners of the evening, Arctic Monkeys took to the stage under dark, moody lighting. Alex Turner’s slick-backed hair shining in the lights paired with the leather jackets gave the band a 50s vibe. The beat came in as ‘four stars out of five’ started playing and the start of the end of the festival had begun.  

The set was dotted with shout outs to the audience, mainly ‘vielen danke’ (thanks very much – for the non-German speakers) and the dulcet tones of Tuner briefly introducing the odd song. However, audience interaction was minimal, this grown-up band a far cry from their ‘crying lighting’ and ‘fluorescent adolescent’ days. The set-list was a good mix of songs, but focused heavily on AM and Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino. Which makes sense, especially if they’re trying to move away from their young, almost post-punk rock of the early days and centre their attention on the more polished sound that the more recent albums have encompassed. If I was to sum up their performance I would have to use that word again, polished. Technically, it was a fantastic set, the sound was amazing, the band were in-sync with each other, though I felt like there could have been a bit more (one-sided, as ever) conversation from the band, but this performance, like the two most recent albums seems to have matured from cocky rock to sophisticated, interesting space-pop, but keeping some of that same cheekiness the Monkeys are famed for.

This year Hurricane had an eclectic mix of bands, which, in a weird way seemed to complement each other. If you were not into the headliners you would always find something that would satisfy your wants. However, it would have been nice to see a few more female artists on the mainstages over the three days, though this is something that all festivals could work on, and not just an issue with Hurricane. Personally, I am looking forward to the announcements for the bands next year, and I, like most of the punters, am ready to do the whole thing again next year.